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People Both Want And Don’t Want To Shop On Thanksgiving: How Retail Can Manage The Split

Whether people prefer belly busters or door busters, retailers are preparing to open on Thanksgiving this year, and their choices may have more to do with loyalty than expected.

(Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Different surveys reveal sharply different opinions on whether shoppers want stores to operate on Thanksgiving. One study, from the holiday deals site BestBlackFriday, shows nearly 60% of shoppers don’t agree with stores opening on Thanksgiving, up from 55% in 2016. Research by PwC, however, shows 58% of consumers said they would shop on Thanksgiving this year, compared with 40% who said they would in 2016.

Regardless of the results, at least a dozen major chains from Walmart to Best Buy said they’ll open their doors this Thanksgiving Day, and many say it’s because their shoppers want the option. Others, notably REI, have taken a stance against Thanksgiving sales, also explaining it’s what their shoppers want.

Do their decisions reflect what is best for shoppers, or what is best for retail? A review of holiday shopping history reveals some of the thoughts behind their choices.

From Dawn to Black Friday Dusk

Retailers first began opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day in 2013, an evident bid to steal potential Black Friday purchases from rivals. It appears to have worked, and more merchants have joined the fray.

Since then, however, Black Friday is seeing less foot traffic as more shoppers buy online, and that is apparently extending to Thanksgiving. In 2016, shoppers spent $1.9 billion online on Thanksgiving Day and an additional $3.3 billion on Black Friday, according to Adobe, which tracks data from online purchases. In stores, sales declined 5% over the two days, according to the analytics firm RetailNext.

Sales have not declined enough to discourage opening, however. Instead, some merchants are now combining their online and in-store offerings. Some are pulling all-nighters. Among those that will be open:

Walmart will begin offering Black Friday discounts online at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, and then open its doors at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving evening. Target, like Walmart, is opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Macy’sBest Buy, Kohl’s and Toys “R” Us plan to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Macy’s will remain open until 2 a.m. on Black Friday, then reopen at 6 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. Best Buy will operate most stores through 1 a.m. Friday, and then reopen at 8 a.m.

J.C. Penney: The department store chain will open stores at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and remain open until 10 p.m. on Black Friday.

Kmart: Not to be one-upped by J.C. Penney, the discounter will open most stores at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.

Among the more than 60 chains going cold turkey and staying closed: NordstromNeiman MarcusT.J. MaxxCostcoIkeaDSW and H&M.

If It’s What the Shopper Wants …

Macy’s, which will be open on Thanksgiving for a fifth consecutive year, said it is serving customers who have said they want to shop on the holiday. By this logic, being available is akin to being reliable, because the brand is responding to customer preferences.

Shopper behavior indicates they are starting holiday gift planning earlier on the calendar. More than half of shoppers started researching holiday gifts in October or earlier, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). One third of shoppers start making actual holiday purchases in that time, and 36% start purchasing in November.

Yet research from ShopperTrak suggests that Thanksgiving Day openings do not lead to more overall purchasing, but steal from purchases that would be made the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Saturday and Sunday after. Merchants that do open most likely feel they will capture sales from competitors.

Opening? Then Make It Memorable

The numbers indicate shoppers want it both ways, praising retailers that remain closed while taking advantage of deals among those that open. Winning with customers, then, requires getting them to like the brand and its choice to open. This in part means turning holiday interactions into seasonally sensitive memorable moments.

Let data sing: For merchants, the decision to open on Thanksgiving should come down to their target customer. Shopper data, such as that collected through loyalty programs, will help them to better personalize offers for products shoppers will likely be seeking. Six in 10 (59%) consumers use their loyalty program rewards when holiday shopping, according to the report “2017 Holiday Retail Outlook” by Alliance Data. More than 70% said a loyalty program makes them more likely to shop a specific retailer.

Jolly workers: Employees may volunteer to work on holidays and be paid time and a half, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll go the extra mile for shoppers. If they are rewarded for relationship-building actions, like resolving the need for an out-of-stock item or recommending complementary products, they will more likely provide positive memorable experiences. Shopper data could come in handy here as well, by revealing past purchases that help the employee understand shopper preferences.

Deck the halls with technology: Even if shoppers plan to drive out to the stores on Thanksgiving, they will still likely want to use the technology available to make the trip easier. In-store or curbside pickup, fast-order kiosks that provide endless aisles of limited stock (such as toys in non-toy stores) and employees geared to offer roving checkouts will make the shopping trip more seamless and could lead to larger purchases.

Also, merchants should observe the holiday and demonstrate how much they appreciate the shopper with signage, greetings from the store manager and small gifts or gestures of thanks. Let there be door-busting deals, but do not let the holiday go bust.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience. 

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